Motu Proprio “Quaerit semper” rearranges the Cong. for Worship and Roman Rota

I have had lots of emails from people about a new document by the Lawgiver Benedict XVI entitled Quaerit semper (please stop sending me links    o{]:¬)    ), by which the Pope makes changes to the briefs of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) and to the tribunal called the Roman Rota.

It has taken me a while to get to this, because, frankly, it doesn’t have a lot of influence on our daily lives.  L’Osservatore Romanum had it on page 6 or 7, don’t remember which.  There was an explanatory article as well, about a fifth of which I grasped.

Here is what I understand.  First… some law from the 1983 Code for the Latin Church:

Can.  1142 For a just cause, the Roman Pontiff can dissolve a non-consummated marriage between baptized persons or between a baptized party and a non-baptized party at the request of both parties or of one of them, even if the other party is unwilling.

In this new Motu Proprio Apostolic Letter Benedict took from the CDWDS the job of handling cases of marriage which were celebrated properly but never consummated.  As you may know, a couple, both baptized, can go through the rite of marriage with all the “t”‘s crossed but, before the whole thing is completed, one more “i” has to be dotted: they must have natural sexual intercourse.  Once it is consummated only death can break the bond.  These cases will now be handled by the Rota rather than the CDWDS.   (BTW… once upon a time it was assumed that, if the couple was alone after the marriage rite even for a few minutes, the marriage was consummated.  I’m just sayin’)

Also, by this new Motu Proprio Benedict has removed from the CDWDS and has given to the Rota cases of the nullity of ordinations due to a defect of the rite or a defect of in the ordinand, that is, the man didn’t or couldn’t understand what was going on or what ordination is, etc.  This last point surprises me a bit, because it seemed to me that this sort of case was handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  The CDF usually handles cases of validity of concrete celebration of sacraments.

So, you can see why this very much inside baseball.  The points to take away, however, are these.

  • Marriage and ordinations celebrated with the proper rites are assumed to be valid.  They have to be demonstrated not to be, with moral certainty, and that demonstration is handled in something like a trial.
  • It bears repeating that a validly celebrated marriage which is ratum et consummatum is broken only by the death of one of the married couple.  There are other types of marriages which can potentially be broken: marriages between two unbaptized people are non-sacramental; marriages between a baptized and a non-baptized person are non-sacramental; marriages between two baptized people which are not consummated.
  • Dicasteries of the Holy See have juridical departments, even if they deal with theological issues.  The good order of the Church is involved.
  • All dicasteries of the Holy See have their authority from the Roman Pontiff, who assigns them tasks within certain spheres of competence.  They are exercising vicariously, as it were, the Pope’s own authority.
  • There are three important tribunals in Rome, the Sacred Penitentiary (dealing with forgiveness of sins, censures, and temporal punishment), the Signatura (the highest administrative court), the Rota (the highest appellate court).

Just a few points.

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13 Responses to Motu Proprio “Quaerit semper” rearranges the Cong. for Worship and Roman Rota

  1. The inside baseball is fairly stifling. But Rorate Caeli adds:

    [RC]The main purpose for this, according to Quaerit Semper, is the following:

    “In these circumstances, it appeared adequate that the work of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments be dedicated essentially [potissimum] to a resumption of the Sacred Liturgy in the Church, according to the renewal that the Second Vatican Council desired, beginning with the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium.”

    So, then: is the “Reform of the Reform”, in law, about to get started, as it seems, with this new impulse planned by the Holy Father?[/RC]

    So the question is . . . . Are they misreading this as portending something for the reform of the reform?

  2. Kevin Egger says:

    Father,

    A small sign of hope for Vatican communications: I learned about this from the Vatican’s Facebook site before I learned it from you!

    God bless you,

  3. frjim4321 says:

    Very interesting. Does this mean a local tribunal cannot decide a case on the basis of non-consummation of marriage? Or does this only relate to appeals? Fascinating.

  4. frjim: The letter is online only in Latin and Italian.  HERE.  Also, there is an article in Italian in L’Osservatore Romano, which I linked, above. 

    I am hoping that the Canonical Defender will explain the situation for us.  There are subtleties of procedure and theology here that I don’t quite get when it comes to the issue of nullity of ordination.

  5. dans0622 says:

    Local tribunals could never decide a non-consummation case. Such a case begins on the local level, under the direction of the Bishop or one whom he appoints to instruct the case. After all the facts are assembled, the file is sent to “the Vatican.” Before, the CDWDS took up the case and decided what to do: present the request to the Pope so he can dissolve the bond or decide that the proof of non-consummation, reason for dissolution, or opportunness of the favor is lacking (cf. cc 1697-1706). All this motu proprio does is change the address the diocese puts on the file.

  6. michelelyl says:

    I just finished an all day session learning all about the “Petrine Privilege” (Favor of the Faith) at the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Advanced Advocacy Training. What a coincidence that this is the first thing I read when I checked my usual sites!

  7. frjim4321 says:

    Well, I learned two new things today.

    Very interesting that CSWDS gets involved in marriage annulments. I knew laicizations went to the CDF, find it amazing that some go to CSWDS.

    It was fascinating to learn that all of the dicasteries have their own judicial branch.

    I do quite a bit of Tribunal work, but all with the normal grounds. Had a ratum non consumatum a few years ago, but they went with other grounds that were more demonstrable.

    With regard to RNC I always wondered how they would treat a marriage in which the parties “consummated” prior to the attempted exchange of vows but did not engage in “natural sexual intercourse” afterwards.

  8. Hughie says:

    As far as I can determine only five American priests have served as Prelate Auditors, judges, of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

    The first was Francis John Cardinal Brennan (1894-1968). Cardinal Brennan was born on May 7, 1894 at Shenandoah and was educated at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook, the Pontifical Roman Athenaeum “S. Apollinare” and the Pontifical Roman Seminary, both Rome.

    Ordained priest on April 3, 1920, by Basilio Pompilj, Cardinal Bishop of Velletri, the Pope’s Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome, he undertook further studies in Rome, 1920-24 and then served as a curate in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, 1924-28, before becoming a Faculty member of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary 1928-40.

    He served as an official of the archdiocesan curia of Philadelphia 1937-40 before in that latter year being appointed a Prelate Auditor on August 1. Cardinal Breennan became Dean of the Rota on December 14, 1959, upon the elevation of Scotland’s William Theodore Cardinal Heard to the Scared College of Cardinals when he retired. With Cardinal Heard’s elevation Blessed Pope John re-established what had formerly been the tradition of elevating the retiring Dean of the Rota. On June 26, 1967 Dean Brennan retired and was appointed Cardinal Deacon of San Eustachio.

    Four American priests have followed in Cardinal Brennan’s footsteps, although up until now none has become Dean, although one did become a Cardinal. Cardinal Ed Egan, Emeritus Archbishop of New York served as a Prelate Auditor 1972-85 before being appointed Auxiliary Bishop of New York. Msgr Thomas George Doran served as a Prelate Auditor 1964-94 before being appointed Bishop of his home diocese, Rockford. Msgr Thomas M Mundy served as a Prelate Auditor 1968-72.

    Today, Msgr Kenneth E Boccafola (72), from Rockville Centre, has been a Prelate Auditor since April 3, 1986. Currently vice-Dean, he is due to succeed as Dean Bishop Antoni Stankiewicz. Bishop Stankiewicz, who was appointed Dean on January 31, 2004, submitted his resignation upon reaching the age limit of 75 years on October 1, 2001. As yet his resignation has not been accepted by the Holy Father.

  9. Advocatus Diaboli says:

    frjim4321:

    Consummation must follow consent: cf. c.1061§1. The parties are not “coniuges” (spouses) according to the scope of this canon until consent has been exchanged.

  10. From the Vatican’s own English translation:

    “In the current circumstances it seemed fitting that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments should dedicate itself chiefly to giving fresh impetus to promoting sacred liturgy in the Church, in keeping with the renewal promoted by Vatican Council II through the Constitution ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’.” (my emphasis)

    It will be interesting to see whether this “fresh impetus” involves substantive reform of the Novus Ordo and its practice.

  11. ContraMundum says:


    Also, by this new Motu Proprio Benedict has removed from the CDWDS and has given to the Rota cases of the nullity of ordinations due to a defect of the rite or a defect of in the ordinand, that is, the man didn’t or couldn’t understand what was going on or what ordination is, etc.

    Maybe it’s just me, but when such a thing happens, it seems to me that somebody should be disciplined for gross neglect. How can a candidate for ordination not know what is going on — short of some medical emergency like a minor stroke during the ordination?

    More controversially, how about disciplining priests if some significant number or proportion of the marriages they witness are later annulled?

  12. dans0622 says:

    I don’t know how many claims are made–in a year–regarding a null ordination. It would seem rather rare. Causes of nullity would seem to be a minister who was incapable of conferring ordination or had an intention contrary to conferring it, a defect in the form, or an ordinand who was incapable of receiving this Sacrament because of a lack of freedom or intention to receive. Maybe there are other causes. (cf. cc. 1708-1712) Dissolution of marriage has nothing to do with declarations of nullity of marriage. Only a valid marriage can be dissolved.

  13. Dsquared says:

    Please help me out with this. Two baptized people go to a Catholic Church, say the “I do’s/give consent” , without any impediments to marriage and they are now sacramentally married. Usually, I would think consummation would take place really soon after the wedding. Here’s the question. What would someone be thinking to go through all that wedding preparation just to say to the other spouse before consummating the marriage (for the first time) “I’ve changed my mind, I think we should have this marriage dissolved”?
    The law (Canon 1142 For a just cause, the Roman Pontiff can dissolve a non-consummated marriage between baptized persons or between a baptized party and a non-baptized party at the request of both parties or of one of them, even if the other party is unwilling ) makes no sense unless someone can put it into some believable scenario. Am I mistaken in my understanding of this law?